I believe we are at a pivotal time in history when educating and providing support to our youth needs to be thought of differently. To be able to change our educational paradigms created over the past 250 years we need to ask ourselves what problems keep coming forward. When it comes to labeling, we should ask, “What are the benefits of labeling?” “Is the label connected to a funding source that provides access to a needed resource, intervention, or opportunity?” “Does our labeling create an advantage or disadvantage for a child?” “Is a label needed to help bring about understanding of a child that has been misunderstood?” “If we apply a label, is it based on equality or equity?”
Many families fight a diagnostic label because they feel that it creates a social disadvantage for their child. Other families seek a diagnostic label to receive help or access even though they aren’t sure what that support would look like or they want the status that comes with what a particular label provides. Either way adults are spending time in search of understanding and access to resources to help a child move forward academically and social-emotionally.
The big idea from my perspective is that if the child has a need that is holding him or her back from moving forward, a system of understanding and support should be accessed. We spend so much time seeking a diagnosis or defining a qualification procedure to help decide whether resources should be given. Often feelings are hurt and time is spent showing ALL that is being done or blaming others for ALL that hasn’t been done. At the end of the day, we still have a child that is not moving forward. I have found that the best question to ask is “What is keeping you up at night?” We can then work as a team to find a resource or opportunity that can best address what is being reported by the child, parent, or teacher. We then can use our Student Success Team members to help come up with a plan of support that can be monitored and adjusted over time. Often if that layer is needed for one student, it is needed for others- so we are actually able to multiply support through this process!
Our greatest challenges are the flip side of our most paramount gifts and strengths. Part of the journey of realizing our potential is to access support to conquer the challenge while at the same time having opportunities to move forward as needed. Flexibility is the key here and needs to be based on the needs of the child rather than conform to an established rule that is placing a road block to support or access.
It is unfortunate to see families and schools at odds over a label. The time that is spent in meetings, writing reports, and documenting for fear of litigation takes away from the time that can be spent helping the child access resources to move forward. You may ask yourself, “How can this be done when most of our ‘out of the box’ thinkers are overwhelmed by all of the children they are trying to serve according to the laws and compliance pieces that are currently in place?” This tells me that our current system of providing support is not working and needs to be redefined.